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Recently, Sainsbury’s have introduced a controversial gin-flavoured yoghurt, and announced plans to introduce more gin-flavoured foods, including a smoked salmon pate with a gin and tonic glaze. With sales of gin surpassing £1bn in 2016, the current obsession with the spirit is apparent, but why?

Gin has a long history in the UK, first arriving with William of Orange in 1688. It was pitched to the masses as medicinal and an antidote to the nation’s obsession with tea, and by the early eighteenth century it had become a craze, with 1,500 distilleries in London alone by the 1730s. Gin was cheaply available and thus became the drink of the working class, who gained a reputation for drunkenness. The upper classes began blaming gin for low fertility rates and a rise in death of young children: infants were neglected by alcoholic mothers and babies were deformed by foetal alcohol syndrome. These factors earned the spirit the name ‘Mother’s ruin’, which is still used by some today. Several acts were passed to try and limit sales and consumption of gin, and in 1757 English grain distilling was banned for three years after a failed harvest. London’s ‘Gin Craze’ is famously represented in William Hogarth’s painting ‘Gin Lane’ which can be explored by History and History of Art applicants alike.

Although the ‘Gin Craze’ passed, gin has remained a popular drink widely associated with British culture. Gin and tonic was popular amongst the British population in colonial India as a way of making their anti-malarial quinine dose more bearable, by mixing it with water, sugar, lime, and of course gin. Quinine is still used today to combat malaria, which is something medical applicants can research further. Gin and tonic is an increasingly popular drink even for those who might not enjoy either individually; as chemist Matthew Hartings explained, the similar molecules merge to create an aggregate, which tastes different to the substances on their own. 

Of interest to potential law students is the legal battle between Sipsmith’s and HMRC in 2009 which has contributed to the recent rise in popularity of gin and micro-distilleries. The distillery, which was the first copper-pot based distillery to start in London for 189 years, was planning to produce less than 300 litres of gin per year, which lawfully classed it as ‘moonshine’. After two years of lobbying, the legislation was changed and they were granted a license. With the new allowance for smaller distilleries, the number of gin distilleries doubled between 2010 and 2016. Thus the new ‘ginnaissance’ (a nod to the Renaissance period, where art and literature saw a revival around Europe) has begun, bringing with it potential business opportunities for small producers around the country, including most recently Dundee United Football Club.

Despite the obvious benefits to small businesses, with gin making its way into our yoghurt and smoked salmon, and our country’s turbulent history with the spirit, should we be concerned about what a new ‘Gin Craze’ might bring?

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